In an unprecedented ruling, the 26-year-old perpetrator behind the Halloween 2021 “Joker” train attack in Tokyo has been sentenced to a lengthy 23-year prison term for attempted murder. His vicious act involved stabbing a 72-year-old man and perpetrating arson on the Keio Line, which sent shockwaves through the capital.
Judge Yu Takeshita, presiding over the case at the Tachikawa branch of the Tokyo District Court, deemed Kyota Hattori responsible for both the stabbing and his intention to kill 12 passengers by dousing a train carriage in oil and setting it ablaze.
The incident took place on October 31, 2021, around 8 p.m. when Hattori thrust a 30-centimeter survival knife into the chest of the unsuspecting man while aboard a train en route to Shinjuku Station. Following the stabbing, he moved to another carriage, where he unleashed the inferno by igniting the spread oil, engulfing the train’s floor and seats in flames.
During the trial, the pivotal question revolved around Hattori’s true intentions when he started the fire in the carriage housing the 12 passengers.
Hattori confessed to the stabbing and arson charges, though his defense asserted that his intent to kill was not absolute, as most passengers had already fled the scene when the fire was ignited. They pleaded for a shorter 12-year prison sentence.
The prosecutors, on the other hand, sought 25 years, arguing that even if the specific victims were uncertain, Hattori’s clear murderous intent stemmed from the evident possibility of the fire’s lethal spread.
Throughout the proceedings, Hattori revealed that a series of unfortunate events triggered his descent into darkness. A failed relationship with his fiancée, coupled with a work-related blunder that led to his transfer, set off a chain reaction that pushed him to contemplate suicide.
Having previously attempted suicide twice before, his failure drove him to harbor a desire for the death penalty.
Strikingly, Hattori acknowledged that he adopted the persona of the Joker, the infamous antagonist from the “Batman” franchise, to fully embody his role during the attack. He believed he had to embrace the Joker’s nihilistic attitude, where the lives of others held little value, in order to carry out his malevolent plan.
Although the stabbed man survived, he endured critical injuries that took three months to heal. Fortunately, no fatalities occurred during the attack.
Several other victims, traumatized by the incident, testified during the hearing that they now suffer from emotional scars, rendering them unable to ride the train without distress.
In an alarming revelation, Hattori admitted to drawing inspiration from an attack on the Odakyu Line that occurred two months prior to his own. Originally planning a killing spree in Tokyo’s bustling Shibuya district, he altered his scheme after witnessing the consequences of the train attack. Notably, another perpetrator, Yusuke Tsushima, received a 19-year prison sentence for that earlier attack.
The prosecution emphasized during the hearing that the Joker attack had a “widespread social influence” and raised concerns about the potential for copycat crimes.
The issue of train security has become a contentious topic, particularly in light of the growing frequency of such attacks. Recently, three passengers were slashed on a train bound for Kansai airport in Osaka Prefecture.
Takayuki Masuda, an official at the transport ministry specializing in crisis management, stated, “Since the Keio Line and Odakyu Line attacks occurred two years ago, we’ve been working closely with companies to develop robust prevention plans after each incident. We are currently in the process of putting them into action.”
In response to these security concerns, Osaka Metro announced plans to install security cameras on all trains by March 2028. They intend to expedite the project for the Midosuji Line and Chuo Line, aiming for completion by 2025 to coincide with the Osaka Expo.
Tokyo Metro has also committed to equipping all its trains with security cameras by 2024.